Alaska Capitol

A multi-billion dollar operating budget for Alaska will be considered by the state Senate after passage in the House.

The spending plan includes an amendment to restrict publicly funded abortions that passed by three votes.

The House voted 23-16 to adopt a $4.2 billion budget in unrestricted general fund spending. It would be funded from taxes and Alaska Permanent Fund revenues. 

The spending plan will be augmented by one-time federal money related to the Covid-19 pandemic that includes assistance for communities, small businesses and the summer tourism industry.

Details on the federal assistance are being worked out under guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department.

“This is a fiscally conservative budget that protects Alaska’s savings and low-tax fiscal climate for businesses and individuals,” said Rep. Kelly Merrick, an Eagle River Republican who co-chairs the House Finance Committee. 

Merrick said that the Legislature in recent years has worked to pare down the budget while continuing to provide essential services without raising taxes.

The House bill does not determine an amount for this year’s dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which is on the agenda before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn May 19. 

“Every Alaskan can find something to like about this budget,” House Speaker Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, said in a prepared statement. 

“The governor’s proposals are largely intact. We worked with the minority to amend the budget on the priorities we could agree on.”

The operating budget “funds essential services and keeps Alaska on a path toward a full recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to the Alaska House Coalition.

Dozens of amendments were debated in the House prior to adoption of the spending plan.

Rep. Chris Kurka, a Wasilla Republican, offered an amendment that would stop Medicaid-funded abortion services. The amendment passed 21-18.  Rep. Ivy Sponholz, an Anchorage Democrat who objected, said the amendment violates the Alaska Constitution.

 

One-time federal

emergency funds

The Senate next is expected to debate its version of the budget. Both chambers will need to work out a compromise in committee. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has the authority to veto line items in the spending plan before signing it.

The budget has one-time federal Covid-19 emergency funds available through the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Federal guidance on how Covid-related relief money may be spent was provided this week by the U.S. Treasury Department, which had slowed deliberations on the state budget as lawmakers awaited the information.

According to the House Coalition, the federal funds will help with:

• Community relief efforts,

• Tourism relief for summer businesses,

• Small business revenue losses,

• Revenue losses by nonprofits.

Alaska’s budget also continues and improves dozens of services and programs.

The budget funds scholarships through the Higher Education Fund, alcohol safety and disease prevention programs, substance abuse grants, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs, and oil spill prevention and response.

Alaska will continue a tax credit program for small companies to increase oil and gas production.

Seven additional public defender positions will be funded to ensure cases move through the courts efficiently.

Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.